Originally posted on The Sports Headquarters  |  Last updated 5/25/13
As another off season of College Football material kicks off, this year marks the third year I’ll throw my hat in the ring and look at a number of topics and categories. In the process I’ll look to do everything from predicting next year’s 25 best teams, identify the games of the year, narrow down the Heisman field, identify those replacing 2012′s stars and ultimately make predictions for each league, culminating in a national championship pick. They’ll be many things I’ll be ridiculed for. There will be a number of things that will surprise some people. Ultimately you’ll come away from the next 6 months of material as ready for the college football season as I can possibly make you. While I’ll be sure to miss on things I would like to remind the skeptics I did correctly predict the same number of bowl teams preseason as Phil Steele a year ago as well as top him in BCS Bowl participants predicted before the year. Nonetheless I’m not putting out any magazines soon so keep buying his for the top preseason coverage available. The key in any top 25 poll is understanding the premise on which the poll is based because not all top 25 polls are built the same way. Some people choose to rank teams 1-25 based on where they think teams will be ranked at year’s end. If they think a team will lose 5 games they won’t rank them. While that may seem logical I’ve never been a proponent of that style of poll and it has never been, nor will ever be, how I choose to do my top 25 polls. My polls reflect the 25 teams entering 2013 who I think are the top 25 teams on a neutral field if the country played a round-robin. If a team is likely to max out at 7 wins that doesn’t give me the urge to rank a nine-win team over them if the nine-win team is from a much weaker league. With that covered, let us continue the top 25 for 2013 as the official kickoff of the off season coverage here at The Sports Headquarters. *Returning Starters Figures from Phil Steele’s Blog Teams already ranked: #25. Fresno State Bulldogs #24 Vanderbilt Commodores #23 USC Trojans #22 Miami Hurricanes #21 Ole Miss Rebels #20 Boise State Broncos #19 Wisconsin Badgers #18 Oklahoma Sooners #17 Florida State Seminoles #16 Northwestern Wildcats #15 Oklahoma State Cowboys #14 Louisville Cardinals #13 Florida Gators #12 TCU Horned Frogs  #11 Notre Dame Fighting Irish #10 LSU Tigers #9 Clemson Tigers #8 South Carolina Gamecocks #7 Texas Longhorns  #6 Georgia Bulldogs #5 Texas A&M Aggies #4 Stanford Cardinal #3 Oregon Ducks Coming in at #2…. Ohio State Buckeyes  2012 Record: 12-0 Conference Finish: 1st in Big Ten Leaders Division (Ineligible for Big Ten Championship Game) Bowl: None (Postseason Ban) 2013 Returning Starters: 9 offense, 4 defense   2013 Offense 2012 may represent a what might have been season for the Buckeyes for years going forward as the 12-0 Buckeyes, ineligible for postseason play would have had a rematch with a Nebraska team they blew out in the Big Ten title game. Assuming they survived that the unbeaten Buckeyes would’ve been just about a lock to play for the BCS title and would’ve played a Notre Dame team who looked a lot less than world-beaters in the National Title game. While SEC country would’ve been up in arms about the matchup, the Buckeyes would’ve had a good chance to win a national title in Urban Meyer’s debut season. So 2013 now serves as their first crack (of what should be many) at contending for a national title and though I think Oregon as a team is more talented, with the coaching turnover there it feels like the Buckeyes are the best bet to challenge Alabama and the SEC for the championship this season. Each top 25 team thus far I’ve started the offensive conversation with the quarterback and it is the only option here as Braxton Miller was single-handedly the offense at times for the Buckeyes last season and will again play a major role in Urban Meyer’s 2013 attack. While his passing numbers don’t sit pretty next to some other big name quarterbacks in college football, when you look at his 254 passing attempts and 227 rushing attempts you begin to understand what he meant to Ohio State regardless of national ranks. Given Meyer’s system, Miller will again be among the most valuable offensive players in college football and with the Buckeyes off their postseason ban now, may get more Heisman love from voters if he’s able to come close to replicating last year’s numbers or improve slightly upon them. Carlos Hyde returns after finishing 2012 with just under 100 yards and 16 rushing touchdowns, a season that earned him all-conference honors. Despite being overshadowed league wide by the likes of Montee Ball and Le’veon Bell, Hyde put together a very solid campaign and enters 2013 as possibly the best running back in the conference. He enters the season as the unquestioned starter but won’t be asked to carry the load alone as the Buckeyes have a core of running backs ready to contribute. Coaches have spoken highly of Rod Smith coming out of spring practice and he’ll enter the season as the number two back, a player who ran for nearly seven yards a carry last season. Sprinkle in Bri’onte Dunn who got some experience last year with 25 carries and some other parts looking to make a name and Meyer and the staff seem to feel really good about this core. The passing game was obviously a weak point at times for Ohio State last year but with the receiving corps intact from last season, Buckeyes fans should be excited about the chance for a progression. Despite the fact Corey Brown was Miller’s favorite target with a team high 60 catches (twice as many as any other Buckeye), it was the home run ability of Devin Smith at over 20 yards per catch that allowed both to finish with over 600 receiving yards. The Buckeyes hit some long passes in the spring game, an encouraging sign and perhaps something Meyer pushed for in hopes of making something click for that unit. Can a third threat emerge anywhere to raise the level of play at the receiver position? With the loss of Jake Stoneburner, Brown and Smith represent the only players on the team from 2012 who caught at least 15 passes. Ohio State survived a few close calls last  year without any consistent passing game. With their eyes set on a national title now, can they afford only having two playmakers catching passes? The offensive line figures to be one of the strong points on the entire team with four returning starters from last year, all of whom will be seniors including all-conference performers Jack Mewhort and Andrew Norwell. While Meyer has expressed concern over the fifth starting spot and who will fill it, reality is the Buckeyes don’t have many issues up front and should be able to run the ball effectively behind this core. The Buckeyes ranked 90th in the nation in sacks allowed a year ago but even a lot of that was due to Miller trying to improvise and make plays that weren’t always there. This was a very productive red zone offense with an 88% success rate and a staggering 38 touchdowns to only 6 field goals. With 30 rushing touchdowns down there, you can see why the front five returning four starters bodes very well for the Buckeyes offense in 2013. 2013 Defense Defense has been the bread and butter of Ohio State football for years and it was supposed to be the one reliability on a 2012 team that was breaking in a new offense that would require growing pains. Yet despite the 34th ranking nationally the Buckeyes defense had a Jekyl & Hyde season of sorts with some head scratching performances including the Nebraska and Cal games though the obvious notable one was against an Indiana team who didn’t go to a bowl game and yet put up 49 points. With only four returning starters back there’s questions to be answered but Meyer has been recruiting very well in his short time in Columbus and there’s already some names ready to step in and become the next generation of impactful Buckeyes. Up front is where you’ll hear the most about the Buckeyes this offseason. All four starters are gone from the defensive line including the team’s premier pass rusher John Simon and fellow NFL talent Johnathan Hankins. The run defense was the strength of the Buckeyes a year ago ranking 14th in the country in rushing yards allowed per game and now we’ll see if revamping the entire defensive line cripples that success. Urban Meyer has heaped praise on Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence, two guys that led the pass rush in the spring game and will apparently be two of the four starters come the season opener. At the end of the day, there’s a lot of unproven parts coming into the rotation but the promise is there for Ohio State to again have a tough front four. In all the Buckeyes have brought in eight defensive linemen in the last two classes ranked as four stars or higher (even though I HATE recruiting rankings). One of the most complete linebackers in college football and an All-American candidate in 2013, Ryan Shazier will be the face of the 2013 Ohio State defense. Last season saw Shazier put up a complete season with 115 tackles, far and away the highest total on the team including 17 for a loss and five sacks. On top of that he defended 12 passes, picked one off (taking it back for a touchdown) and forced three fumbles. With the losses of Zach Boren and Etienne Sabino, Shazier is the only returning starter from Ohio State’s front seven a season ago. Between Curtis Grant, Josh Perry, Camren Williams (CM STAND UP) and a couple others, the other two spots will be key as the inexperience could be a problem early. Meyer knows the offense should be better in 2013 than it was in 2012 and maybe they don’t need the D to be exceptional to win a lot of games but there will be enough challenging games on the slate that new parts can’t take forever adjusting to their new role. The back end of the Buckeyes defense is where the experience and talent returns. Three starters are back including All-American cornerback Bradley Roby who was third on the team with 63 tackles, picked off two passes and defended 19. Despite less than stellar numbers against the pass a year ago (72nd in pass defense nationally) Roby represents one of the top corners in America and a couple safeties coming back give the Buckeyes both experience and proven production. Christian Bryant and C.J Barnett coming back mean the top four tacklers on the team last season are back. With all upperclassmen returning and some talented underclassmen ready to break out in Meyer’s last two recruiting classes, I wouldn’t be surprised if this unit has a coming out party of sorts and represents an elite national unit. The Buckeyes buckled down in the red zone last season finishing with one of the top red zone defenses in the country and also ranked favorably in sacks showing some ability in getting after the quarterback. On top of that Ohio State was great on third down defense, ranking 20th nationally in third down defense. If there are a couple areas Ohio State could improve in 2013 it is forcing turnovers, something the Buckeyes didn’t do all that well a year ago and tackles for a loss. We should know by the end of September or early October what type of defense this will be and whether the new guys will do enough. If they do, there are reasons to be excited if you’re a Buckeyes fan about this team’s chances. Schedule Ohio State makes a return trip to Cal in the non-conference schedule but as a whole gets a relatively soft non-conference schedule that should leave them unbeaten when they enter Big Ten play. The Buckeyes certainly miss some landmines that are leaving some others saying it is a favorable schedule for Ohio State but I don’t think their cross-division matchups are as easy as some say. Nebraska is a team I’m just not that high on coming into 2013 and some seem to think it is a huge blessing they miss the Cornhuskers. On the flip side the Buckeyes get Northwestern on the road and it’s a team (despite some respectable analysis to the contrary) that I think could be the favorite in the Legends Division this year, I like Northwestern a lot. The Buckeyes open with Wisconsin at home and this very well could go a long way to determining the Leaders Division champ. While Bill O’Brien is making significant strides at Penn State and Indiana appears on the rise, this is still a two-horse race for the division crown. Getting Iowa at home is favorable since the Hawkeyes are always a tough road game even when they’re not expected to be good and of course they finish with Michigan on the road. I’d imagine they will gain a lot of respect if they win the Big Ten but can a team with even one loss against their schedule make the National Title game if a one-loss team is picked? I almost feel like the Buckeyes have to go unbeaten. Fortunately for them, there’s only a couple games on the schedule I’d even give them a chance to lose (though Purdue and Indiana wouldn’t have been on that list last year).  Send all complaints to @BDohertyCFB and go follow the site twitter feed at @TSHQsportsblog for sports coverage all over as well as plain tom-foolery content.
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